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Deal Voids Late Davis Picks

Senate Democrats agree to scrap most of the appointments in exchange for Schwarzenegger's backing for 17.

October 25, 2003|Gregg Jones | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Senate Democrats and aides to Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger said Friday they had reached an agreement to reject most of the dozens of last-minute appointments sought by Gov. Gray Davis in exchange for Schwarzenegger's endorsement of 17 Davis appointees after he takes office in mid-November.

Schwarzenegger has agreed to the compromise, said an official with the governor-elect's transition team. It was negotiated by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), head of the Senate Rules Committee, and Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine), the committee's vice chairman, and Burton briefed several Democratic senators on the details during a Friday conference call.

Davis has nominated 12 aides to jobs offering salaries of $86,196 to $117,396 a year and submitted the names of another 77 people for unpaid appointments to state boards and commissions. The 17 appointments that will be allowed to stand are to a mix of paid and unpaid positions.

"It is a winner for everybody," said Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland). "Rather than having the story be about defying the new governor or picking up after the old one, this is a perfect way of saying that quietly some things got done and Arnold's first gesture toward the Legislature was a positive one."

Johnson couldn't be reached for comment. Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga was dealing with wildfires in his district and was unavailable on Friday, said spokeswoman Nghia Nguyen.

Meanwhile, Democrats remain divided about how to respond to Schwarzenegger's determination to repeal Senate Bill 60, which enables even illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. During the caucus telephone call, some of the Democrats favored giving the governor-elect what he wants, arguing that otherwise the law will be overturned by voters via a ballot initiative. But others resisted that argument.

In a meeting earlier this week with Burton, Schwarzenegger made clear that it was politically impossible for him to compromise on his vow to repeal the law, Senate Democrats said.

"He's pretty determined and frankly, politically, he is totally focused on repealing SB 60 because it's a high-visibility issue, it's highly emotional and the exit polls showed people were overwhelmingly opposed to it," said Perata. "We could do a modification, he'd veto it and say, 'These guys haven't learned anything.' "

Perata said he expected a repeal "is going to happen."

The author of SB 60, Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), was traveling outside the country and couldn't be reached for comment. But Cedillo's chief of staff, Dan Savage, said the senator would try to amend the measure to address the concerns of critics. Some believe that its provisions endanger homeland security because immigrants would not be subject to sufficient background checks. Others object that a state-sanctioned license would reward people for having violated immigration laws.

"This has been a five-year battle to get this bill through the Legislature and get the governor to sign it," Savage said, and Cedillo "doesn't see any benefit to rolling over and playing dead now."

He added, "We have no interest in getting in a fight over this, and if the governor-elect wants to reach a compromise to address his concerns we're more than happy to do that."

Savage conceded that the measure might be overturned by voters, but added: "Sometimes doing the right thing is important."

The compromise over Davis' bid to make dozens of last-minute appointments -- a common practice by outgoing governors -- was welcomed by Democrats who feared being criticized for undercutting the incoming governor. The 17 appointments that Schwarzenegger has agreed to preserve are to seats on the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, state water boards and the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

"I think it's a win-win situation for everybody," said Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles). "It was worked out in a bipartisan fashion."

In another conciliatory gesture toward Schwarzenegger, Burton and Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) have put their members on notice to be prepared to return to Sacramento for a possible special legislative session on Nov. 18, just after Schwarzenegger is expected to take the oath of office.

Schwarzenegger said during his meetings at the Capitol this week that he would call the Legislature into special session to address the driver's license legislation, reforms in the workers' compensation system and budget issues.

"We know there's a good chance the governor-elect will call us back," Romero said. "We want to be cooperative. We want to make sure we have a majority there."

Perata said: "When he wants us back, we'll be there. The last thing any of us intend to do is to be obstinate."

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Times staff writer Virginia Ellis contributed to this report.

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